A few weeks ago, Czech developer Warhorse announced they had started work on a new RPG set entirely in real world, historical locations. The pedigree of the Warhorse team alone is enough to make me more than a little interested in the game – Dan Vavra, the studio head was director of Mafia and lead designer on Mafia II, two of my favourite open world games, and other members of the team have worked on ArmA, Operation Flashpoint and UFO: Aftershock – but it’s the other detail for the as yet unnamed RPG that make me really excited. The game will be developed around the rather spectacular CryEngine 3, will be open-world, massive and entirely set in historically accurate locations.
There aren’t too many historically accurate RPGs around. Whilst there are no concrete reasons for this, I would posit that the reason for the dearth of historical RPGs would be the difficulty of keeping historically accurate whilst giving the player a compelling story, choice and consequence – compounded with the difficulty of open world development when you can’t populate the world with monsters, loot and random encounters to keep players busy between scripted encounters.
The closest we’ve really come to a historically accurate RPG in recent years is the Mount & Blade spin-off With Fire and Sword, a game based on a the first novel in a hugely popular Polish trilogy by Henryk Sienkiewicz. The trilogy and game are set in the 17th century and revolve around politicking and warfare during the Khmelnytsky Uprising, a Cossack Rebellion in the Ukraine that lead to the Ukranian war of liberation from Poland.
Although the setting for the game With Fire and Sword is undeniably fascinating (far and away my favourite Mount & Blade game) it does suffer somewhat from the adherence to real world values. The open world is vast and features a number of real world locations, but there is a general lack of form or direction that is in part due to the nature of open world games but is also a factor of the real world setting and how unused players are to dealing with the real world in role playing games.
In fantasy and science fiction RPGs, especially open world ones like The Elder Scrolls or Fallout series, players are used to random encounters, loot drops and being rewarded for exploration with new new stories, locations, monsters, dungeons and loot. For the most part such a thing is not entirely possible in a real world RPG.
Unless there is a valid reason for interesting loot you really can’t justify a randomised loot system in a real world RPG. Likewise you can’t feature dungeons or other such locations unless they should actually be there. Naturally you can’t populate your world with monsters but you can’t exactly feature frequent random encounters either without breaking the realism of your setting.
So how then do you go about creating compelling RPG content in a historically accurate setting? One solution would be to concentrate more on character interaction, choice and consequence than on combat, allowing the player to live and interact within a historically accurate setting without risking either breaking the setting or risking repetition by putting the emphasis on the normal staple of the open world RPG, exploration and combat.
On the other hand, you could take the opposite route and base your game entirely around exploration and combat, sending a character into a strange new world to explore and conquer, like a Conquistador in America, a Portuguese sailor in Macau, an escaped African slave freedom fighter in Brazil, an explorer in the Amazon or any other setting that could make your character a stranger in a strange land. There’s also the possibility of an interesting middle ground, setting the game within a lesser known historical period that could be as new and interesting to players as an original fantasy or science fiction world.
It’s way too early in the piece to know what route Warhorse is going to take with their as-yet-unnamed historical open-world RPG, but as someone who is both a lover of history and a person who constantly craves something new, I can’t wait to find out.
Banner image via jOuey.